Letters Concerning the Jews of Constantinople (Saint Athanasios I, Patriarch of Constantinople)

NOTE: Athanasius I (1230 – October 28, 1310) was the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople for two terms, from 1289 to 1293 and 1303 to 1309. He was born in Adrianople and died in Constantinople. Chosen by the emperor Andronicus II Palaeologus as patriarch, he opposed the reunion of the Greek and Roman Churches and introduced an ecclesiastic reform that evoked opposition within the clergy. He resigned in 1293 and was restored in 1303 with popular support. The pro-Union clerical faction forced him into retirement in early 1310.

St. Athanasius I, Patriarch of Constantinople
St. Athanasius I, Patriarch of Constantinople

He is commemorated as a saint in the Orthodox Church with his feast day observed annually on October 28.

The following Letters are taken from The Correspondence of Athanasius I, Patriarch of Constantinople: Letters to the Emperor Andronicus II, Members of the Imperial Family, and Officials.

The Correspondence of Athanasius I, Patriarch of Constantinople

Letter 23. Athanasius asks the bishops to join him when he presents a supplication to the Emperor about the problem of the Latins, Jews, and Armenians in Constantinople.

(Το the bishops)

Since each of the most holy bishops must soon go to his assigned see, and since there are certain matters which require a joint supplication to the ruler, such as the question of the Latins and the rumor that they are teaching with impunity, and are corrupting many of wavering (faith), we should not go away without attending to this. There is also the issue of the Jews and Armenians, that they should leave (the capital), and other such God-pleasing acts which require a joint supplication, and (the factor of) the oppressive summer weather. Wherefore, if you please after our meal on Sunday let us assemble and go together to the emperor. For Ι do not think that he will fail to see the advantage of the proposal. Therefore, for the sake of the Lord, let no one be absent through hesitancy. If then you judge it fitting, let us assemble at Chora, and from there go together to meet with the emperors.

The Synagogue, Sardis Ancient City, Salihli, Manisa, Turkey
The Synagogue, Sardis Ancient City, Salihli, Manisa, Turkey

Letter 36 <Το the emperor>

The fact <is> that you do not instruct your sons in ways pleasing to God, and that you do not look after your subjects as a father should his children; that the Church has been profaned and attacked, so that not only through ignorance are unworthy men brought into the clergy, but also men who are known to be unworthy; that not only in the common people abandoned without any instruction, but they are defiled as they ought not to be by the introduction of Jews and Armenians; that fiscal agents are not investigated, but persist in their depravity and injustice; that truth and righteousness and judgment and mercy have disappeared; that the people of God have been delivered into the hands of Ishmael on account of their adultery, incest and perverted passion for sodomy and pederasty, and because of their intolerable blasphemy and sorcery and injustice; that never has such license for corruption been granted to nuns and monks; that although you were able to act in both public and private affairs and to acquire exalting humility through the Lord and with the help of the Lord, you preferred to do nothing (?); that when an army is dispatched, there is no one to admonish the men and to frighten them into marching with Christ, but they indulge in adultery and looting and thievery, and how will they then be victorious 1 that although we condemn the disobedience and transgression of the Jews, on account of which they were destroyed, we ourselves are even more guilty of disobedience and transgression, and just as they disregarded their fellow servants, so we disregard our Lord and King the great God. If then with the help of God you strive to the best of your ability for a change <in these conditions>, not only will you rise above the threatened <catastrophe>, and your subjects with you, but, in addition to this kingdom, you will also gain the kingdom of heaven.

Mosaic Floor of the Beth Alpha Synagogue
Mosaic Floor of the Beth Alpha Synagogue

Letter 41. Athanasius protests the Emperor’s toleration of religious worship by Jews, Armenians, and Turks within the walls of Constantinople.

(Το the emperor)

When Rhapsakes the general of Senachereim, king of the Assyrians, dared to spew forth words of insult against the Lord of all, the most pious king Hezekiah not only rent his garments in his zeal for the great Lord, but removed his royal garb and donned sackcloth. Wherefore the Lord of hosts was moved to pity and slew 185,000 Assyrians. How then, holy emperor, will the Lord Sabaoth help us, when we not only permit, in the midst of Orthodox Christians, the assembly of a God-murdering congregation, people who sneer at our customs (that is, at our worship and adoration and faith in our Lord and God Jesus Christ, and our pious veneration of images, and all the mysteries in which the holy and immaculate faith of Christians abounds), but when also through bribes Kokalas has given them great power? And if any Christian out of zeal dares to protest, who will save him from jail?

Beth Alpha Synagogue Zodiac Mosaic (Detail)
Beth Alpha Synagogue Zodiac Mosaic (Detail)

As for the outrages which the Armenians perpetrate towards the neighboring Orthodox Christians, Ι am ashamed to tell that story, God be my witness. I’ll say only so much, that they are not prevented from having a meetinghouse for their prayers, and if any orthodox person should dare to protest in that matter, too, the Armenians will exert a great deal of power with a few silver coins. Everyone knows that <those> Ishmaelites, .who on account of my sins rule Christian cities, do not even allow Christians to strike the semαndron there. But although we are endowed with this Christian empire through the grace of Christ our God, not only have we neglected to do what the envoys of the Ishmaelites did (good-for-nothings that they are, and sent by no better masters), but they openly climb up on high, as is the custom in their land, and shout forth their abominable mysteries. Witnesses of these and similar outrages conceal them and do not report the bald facts to your majesty, so that you might demonstrate your zeal inspired by God.

Synagogue mosaic of King David (Byzantine Era)
Synagogue mosaic of King David (Byzantine Era)

For this reason, holy emperor, how will God hear our prayers, if we pray at all? How «while thou art yet speaking will He say ‘Behold, Ι am here’»? How «will He speak peace to His people»? For this reason, to borrow your own words, «Ι entreat, Ι entreat, Ι entreat» your majesty, arise! Let victims of wrongdoing have a hearing, evil-doers be restrained, and men of righteousness and truth receive favor and praise. « Gird thy sword upon thy thigh» with the help of God in all good works, and «bend thy bow and prosper and reign, because of truth and righteousness» and divine zeal and courage, «so that the right hand of God shall guide thee wonderfully» , and so that He will honor you ; for God says, «Ι will only honor them that honor me» , and Ι know that you will honor Him in your heart. However, God has a rule: He honors in secret those who honor Him in secret, and He honors in the presence of men those who honor Him in the presence of men. As He says, «Whosoever shall confess me before men, him will Ι confess».

The Sardis synagogue floors were paved with ornate mosaics and its walls were covered with panels made with multicolored marble.
The Sardis synagogue floors were paved with ornate mosaics and its walls were covered with panels made with multicolored marble.

Meanwhile, if you, your majesty, strive with the help of God to fulfil <these duties>, Ι will not hesitate to petition about the other matters. Acquire then a good and holy name for the sake of God. Strive honestly, not in word, but in deed. For at the time of death, one should show deeds, not words. Be <another> Phinees. «Atone» for our evil .deeds, so that «the s1aughter will abate» , and so that God may «broaden the territory» of Christians, so that He will supply an abundance of necessities to your subjects, so that He will protect you in battle, and grind down like dust under your feet every foe and enemy, so that He will grant you long life, and on account of your virtues will hand down the empire to your children and grandchildren, for generation after generation, and in addition to your terrestrial empire will grant you also the one in heaven.

The Binding of Isaac, Synagogue Mosaic.
The Binding of Isaac, Synagogue Mosaic.

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